by Catherine Macallister
The Theatre Workshop of Nantucket has introduced yet another dynamic show to its repertoire this season. Terms of Endearment is striking from the moment you enter the dimly lit theatre: Bennett Hall transformed from its typical stage set up to “theatre in the round,” an intimate theatre experience that allows you to see the show from every side of the stage. Dan Gordon renders the story beautifully as you learn about relationships, love, and heartbreak during this adaptation.
Terms of Endearment tells the story of a mother Aurora Greenway and her daughter Emma, whose relationship plays out over the course of thirty years. Aurora is feisty and strong-headed, apparent from the very first moments of the show when she wakes up her sleeping infant Emma, fearing that she has succumbed to crib death. As the play progresses, their relationship is a constant back-and-forth filled with bickering, moving, marriage, births, and eventually death. The push-and-pull between the two is never without love, though, an important piece of this emotional production. The two connect via phone, even when they are far away, sharing details about their lives, Aurora always certain to share her opinion playfully saying things like “You know how much I love having the last word.” Aurora disapproves of Emma’s husband “Flap,” from the beginning, and as she comes to terms with her daughter marrying and bearing his children, she also comes to terms with the dreaded thought of becoming a grandmother, something she cannot believe she is old enough to be: a humorous moment that the audience enjoyed.
Emma shares in some of her mother’s traits, claiming from the beginning, “I am possible, I’m very possible,” which proves to be something that is tested throughout the ups and downs of her life. When Emma moved away, Aurora is alone, having lost her husband 10 years prior in the show. She finds herself drawn the her astronaut neighbor, Garrett Breedlove, a sort of celebrity playboy whose successful orbit and landing on the moon have led to lifelong fame. Despite keeping tabs on “the astronaut,” via binoculars, Aurora, stubborn as ever, waits five years before taking Breedlove up on an offer of a lunch date and eventually finds herself in his arms. As Emma and Flap’s relationship deteriorates due to infidelity, a horrible health realization comes into play and suddenly there is a time limit on life, and on the daily phone calls that Aurora and Emma share.
The cast for this show is stunning, undergoing a lifetime of emotional moments in a quick eighty-five minute performance that will leave you in awe of their talent. Ellie Gottwald, who plays Aurora, captures the essence of a mother who is stubborn and reluctant but nonetheless supportive of her daughter. Audiences appreciate her dry humor and unexpected colorful commentary during her highest and lowest emotional moments. Brooke Sweeney as Emma is delightful and strong. Her energy and ability to portray Emma even during the toughest emotional moments is impressive, and she leaves the audience in tears during the final scene of the show. John Shea as Garrett Breedlove, is no stranger to the stage and the audience will appreciate the perfect delivery of Garrett Breedlove: a crass yet somehow endearing astronaut who shows his softer side when he’s not cracking jokes like, “I don’t want to lie to about the fact that I’m going to lie to you.” Flap, played by Dakota Dutcher shines in his moments on stage, redeeming his character towards the end of the show when he is most needed by Emma. John Devaney and Leise Crew Trueblood each play a handful of roles, fitting well into this small cast that packs a big punch.
The chemistry between all of the actors is what makes this show particularly wonderful and authentic. The friendship between Emma (Sweeney) and Patsy (Trueblood) feels real as they sit on Emma’s floor listening to records and smoking pot before Emma’s wedding, then as adult women reconnecting after several years apart. The relationship between Aurora (Gottwald) and Garrett (Shea) is realistic and passionate with humor and, sometimes, regret woven through it. Even the shorter exchanges, such as the terse back-and-forth of Aurora and Flap (Dutcher) or the humorous and threatening debate of Aurora and Garrett versus Dr. Maise (Devaney), showcase the electrifying chemistry of this cast.
Terms of Endearment is made even more brilliant by the creative team behind it. Director Justin Cerne has not only cast well, but the direction of the actors especially in the unique style of theatre-in-the-round make the story more moving. One particularly heartfelt moment is a phone call between Aurora and Emma when they learn of bad news that changes the course of the character’s lives. The two actresses face one another for the first time in their phone exchanges, seemingly sharing the same room while being miles apart. This is just one example of the effectiveness of how the stage space was utilized to create dramatic moments.
The individual lights that hang above the stage bring through the soft lighting effects of lighting designer Stephen Petrilli beautifully. Peter Waldron, the scenic designer and technical designer, has created a space that easily transforms from one setting to the next, made more creative through the screens in each corner of the stage that help to distinguish certain places: a Renoir for Aurora’s room, a pool for Breedlove’s house. The audience will appreciate the costuming and prop details of Annie Breeding and Casey Boukus and the powerful sound choices of sound designer Sean Ramos, which all contribute to the overall effect of the show.
Terms of Endearment is not to be missed at the Theatre Workshop of Nantucket: it is poignant and beautiful with a cast and crew that tell the story in such a magnificent way that it will leave you in tears by the show’s end. This show runs through October 5 at 62 Centre Street, in Bennett Hall. To purchase tickets visit theatrenantucket.org or call 508-228-4305. Tickets are selling fast, so make sure to reserve yours soon.